When Pets Are Part Of The Family

petsAttorney Theresa Beran Kulat explains how the collaborative process can ensure that pets are part of the divorce agreement.

A new divorce client came into my office to begin the divorce process. A high-income, high net-worth professional, he and his wife had been through counseling, valued their relationship, and decided that they wanted a divorce. They had been “nesting” for over a year, meaning that their three children, ages 8, 11 and 13, stayed in the marital home and the parents moved in and out, staying in an apartment nearby.

Our meeting began very business-like as he calmly answered my questions about real estate, retirement accounts, and investments. After the basics, I said, “Is there anything else you’d like to share?” Long pause. He said, “We have three cats,” his eyes filling with tears.

During our conversation, he realized that once they stopped nesting, there would be two homes. While most of the tough issues had been handled before he walked in the door, they never talked about the cats. In the next twenty minutes of our time together, he shared the history of how they got the cats, temperament of each cat, how they form part of the family. He feared the wife would use the cats in the negotiations. Anger reared its head a few times when he learned that “the law” considers pets to be “personal property.” He had no “rights” to the cats if they stayed in the marital home with the wife.

By the end of our initial meeting, he understood that a negotiated divorce was going to serve his needs best. We decided that using Collaborative Law would allow him and his wife to include the care and enjoyment of the cats in the divorce settlement. He was willing to make financial concessions to make sure he could spend time with the cats. Fast forward to the end of their divorce – this couple reached a full settlement of all their issues – including “liberal and flexible visitation” with the cats. Their collaborative team honored the pets as part of the family.

In another one of my cases, the family decided to have the dog go back and forth to each parent’s home with the children. They shared expenses related to the care of the dog – vet bills and its organic food. That outcome would not likely have been issued by a Judge in a contested proceeding. In fact, the Judge would probably not want to hear about the dog.

The Collaborative process allows people to create agreements that work for their family. When the family includes pets, the needs of the pets matter and the role the pet plays in each family member’s life is honored.

Theresa Beran Kulat, founder and lead attorney at Trinity Family Law, P.C. in Downers Grove, focuses on Collaborative Practice and Mediation and limits her practice to settling cases. She also provides coaching services. Please visit www.TrinityFamilyLaw.com or call 630-960-4656 to learn more.

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2016 Updates to IL Marriage, Dissolution Marriage Act – What You Need to Know

law books2016 Updates To The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act: What You Need to Know
Ted Hans, CDFAVon Hans Financial
1977 was an exciting year. Star Wars was released. Hotel California by the Eagles was a big hit. Horse racing’s Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew captured the public’s adoration. Roots, the novel was widely read. 1977 also marked the last major revision of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (“IMDMA”). This year on January 1, new legislation went into effect in Illinois. Our society has changed greatly in the years since the 1970’s. Many of those societal changes are reflected in the revised IMDMA.

The revisions to this statute truly are major. Many key aspects of the law have been changed. For example, the terms “custody” and “visitation” have been replaced with the allocation of “parental responsibilities” and “parenting time.” By today’s standards it does seem a bit cold and antiquated to term the time a parent spends with their child as “visitation”. The statute changes are aimed at making a highly contentious matter less antagonistic. The allocation of parental responsibilities, as opposed to the custody provision in the old IMDMA, is more flexible and wider in its scope as it considers many more activities than its predecessor in the old statute. The revised law now requires parents to file a parenting plan with the court within one hundred and twenty days of filing their divorce. The new law also details what needs to be included in the plan.

There is now only one ground for divorce in Illinois, irreconcilable differences. On the surface, this change does not seem to be a profound change as the great majority of Illinois divorces have proceeded under the grounds of irreconcilable difference for years. What will matter is that the waiting period to obtain a divorce has been reduced. If you and your spouse agree, you can get divorced without having to first be separated for any period of time.

The law regarding moving with your children (this is now called Relocation but was formerly known as Removal) is a notable change to the IMDMA. The new law significantly limits a parent’s ability to move within Illinois with the children, absent the other parent’s consent. New rights for non-parents helps family members that once were deemed outside the “traditional” family model are also built into the new act.

Sections of the act including: Interim attorney’s fees, temporary relief, timing of judgments, child support, educational expenses for non-minor children, property provisions, standard forms and maintenance have all been updated to reflect the dramatic changes we’ve seen in society and family dynamics over the past thirty five years.
These are only some of the changes the legislature made to the law. Given the fact that the law is so new, and the courts have not had time to apply and interpret it yet, fighting over parenting issues in court right now is an even worse idea. No one can predict with certainty what will happen. Collaborative divorce gives couples a way to maintain much more control over their parenting plan.

It is important for any pursuing involved in divorce proceedings in Illinois to be aware of these changes in the law. For more information consult your attorney, financial advisors, mental health professionals, or other members of your divorce team.

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Tips to Make Long Distance Co-Parenting Work

mapCo-parenting long distance can be challenging even if you and your ex live near one another, but even more so if you’re trying to do it long distance. Paulette Janus, LCSW shares 10 tips for making it work.

10 Tips To Make Long-Distance Parenting Work
At times, after parents divorce, one parent may need to relocate to a distance, whether hours away or to a different county, that makes a typical co-parenting schedule difficult or even impossible. Whether this relocation is due to a better employment opportunity, or to be closer to extended family, or to return to that parent’s country of origin, or some other reason, the same challenges arise, whether the children relocate with that parent or remain with the parent in the area in which they have been residing.

If you are the parent who is geographically distant from your child, how do you maintain a positive parent-child relationship? And if you are the parent who resides with the children, how do you encourage the relationship between your children and their other parent?

No matter the situation, the bottom line is that children need and deserve a relationship with both parents, except for in extreme cases of abuse and/or neglect, which for the purpose of this article we are assuming is not the case. The good news is that it is possible to have a positive parent-child relationship with both parents no matter geography.

1. Never talk disparagingly of the other parent. Ever. It is always important to remember that no matter your feelings regarding your co-parent, they are still your child’s parent yet if your child’s other parent resides distantly, you child needs you even more to foster a positive relationship between them and their other parent. And ensure that extended family and new significant others understand and follow this as well.

2. Ensure that both homes have photos of the other parent. Your child has two homes, no matter the geographical distance. You and your co-parent may no longer be married yet you are still your child’s family. And who doesn’t have photos of family in their home?

3. Have a place in your child’s rooms at both homes where they are able to place items from the other parent to remind them of how much their other parent loves and supports them. A special shelf or a corkboard behind the bedroom door work well.

4. Send letters, postcards, and care packages. Technology is great yet there is nothing like a nice handwritten note or special delivery. It can be something simple such as a favorite candy or a magnet from an outing. If you are the long-distance parent, send such items to your child. If you are the resident parent, encourage your child to send such items to their other parent. For example, if you and your child go to the zoo, purchase a postcard and say to your child, “I know mom/dad would have loved to be here today. Let’s send them this postcard and tell them how much you loved the bears.”

5. Send text messages and photos regularly. You want each parent, particularly the long-distance parent, to have constant “touch contact” with your child. If you are the long-distance parent, a simple text that you are thinking of your child helps them to remember that you love and support them no matter geography. If you are the residential parent, sending a text of your child playing with friends or enjoying ice cream keeps your child’s other parent involved in day-to-day activities.

6. Ensure that each parent knows your child’s activities and interests. Did your child recently develop a love for trains then let the other parent know. This helps facilitate dialogue. Children will engage in more discussion if their other parent says, “So I heard you’ve gotten into trains, tell me about it.” rather than, “How was your day?” And during events such as baseball games or dance recitals, use video-conferencing for the parent who is not present to view and if that parent is not available, ensure that events are recorded.

7. Use transition objects recognizing that transitions may be difficult. Children like to have things from their parents to remind them. So when your child is with their other parent, have them hang on to your favorite scarf or t-shirt or have them take their favorite toy. These things help them to feel comfortable and close to their other parent.

8. Create special traditions. If you are the residential parent, it is possible that most holidays and vacations your child will spend with their other parent. Whether for holidays or just on a daily basis, traditions are important for a sense of connection. So, you might have to celebrate a holiday earlier or later than the actual day. Remember, it is about the traditions and not the actual calendar day. Or create other traditions such as Friday sushi night or Sunday board game time.

9. Make sure both parents are involved in rewards and discipline, at least on a larger scale. Often times it can feel that this falls only on the residential parent yet it not need be so. If you have to set a consequence for misbehavior, let your child know that you are going to talk to their other parent and then you and your co-parent can together let your child know your decision. This allows for both parents to be involved in rewarding and disciplining behavior, which is important for parenting.

10. Normalize your family. Let your child know that families come in all shapes and sizes and their family just happens to have mom and dad living far apart. This does not mean that mom and dad love them less.

If relocation may be in your future, contemplate a Collaborative Process as a means to reach agreements and create solutions that work for your unique family structure.

Paulette Janus, LCSW is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and founder of Janus Behavioral Health Services. Paulette has over 15 years experience providing individual, couples, and family psychotherapy, specializing in children, teens, and families. She is also trained in and provides alternative dispute resolution interventions including family/divorce mediation, collaborative divorce coaching and child specialist services, and co-parent coaching. Paulette received her Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Northwestern University and her Master of Social Work degree from the University of Illinois Chicago. www.janusbhs.com

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